Talk about a Harry Houdini act.
The Phoenix Coyotes, down and apparently out early, took a page from "We have to Find a Way to Win" book and remained very much alive in the quest for a spot in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
At this point in the season, the Coyotes can not afford a clunker. They averted disaster, found a way to pull this one out and maintain leverage for the playoff run. Here, the quest for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs could have taken an important hit, but the Coyotes recovered from a sluggish start to down the visiting St. Louis Blues, 2-1 before 10,977 at Jobing.com Arena March 22.
"We found a way to win, and to finish," said captain Shane Doan. "Get the two points, that's we kept telling each other on the bench."
The Coyotes threatened for the second straight time to lose at home and place an important six-game home stand at risk. Because the Coyotes have a better record on the road, this stretch of play at home looms paramount. Yet the Coyotes do not appear to take advantage of playing at home.
Coming into the Blues game, Phoenx was 18th in the league at home (17-12-6) while fourth on the road (22-12-5).
This one started regrettably but ended in a positive manner for the Coyotes playoff hopes.
Nearly midway through the opening period, the Coyotes failed to clear a loose puck in front, and the Blues' Kevin Shattenkrik eventually converted a Chris Stewart pass in front into his eighth of the season nearly nine minutes into the game.
More importantly, the Coyotes failed to connect on the power play, a dilemma which plagued Phoenix most of the season. Coming into the Blues game, Phoenix was 21st in the league with a 16.5 percent on the power play. They failed to take advantage of the Blues' marginal penalty killing because the Blues, coming into the game, killed penalties at a 80.7 percent, good for 22nd in the NHL.
With minors to Stewart and Ian Cole late in the opening period, the Coyotes had a two-man advantage for 45 seconds and came up empty. For the overall chance, Phoenix managed only two shots on Jaroslav Halak, the Blues netminder. For the opening period, the Coyotes had just seven shots on net and hardly any aggressive play.
Then, Ray Whitney, to the right of the net, took a pass from Lauri Korpikoski and slammed in his 14th of the season at 8:41 of the second to tie, and then Korpikoski picked up the game winner with exactly three minutes left in the second when his wrist shot skimmed off the pads of Halak and into the St. Louis net for his 18th of the season.
"The puck hit the outside of his pads and went in," said Korpikoski. "It was a little lucky and I'll take it."
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov bailed out his teammates on more than one occasion and proved the difference of strong goaltending at critical times. For his effort, Bryzgalov earned his 34th win of the season, and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said he will stay with the 30-year-old native of Togliatti, Russia down the strech. Overall, Bryzgalov stopped 29-of-30 St. Louis shots.
Tippett expressed little consolation in his team's marginal effort against the Blues, but only stressed the importance of creating magic when it counts.
"We have to keep our nose to the grindstone and find ways to win," he said. "After that first period, we needed change, anything and Whitney's goal got us going. In the end, we won, and that's all that counts."
Korpikoski's goal tied the 24-year-old for the team lead in goals with Doan and Radim Vrbata. With a goal and an assist against the Blues, Korpikoski picked up eighth, multi-point game and first since two goals against the Ducks at Anaheim March 13. ... Whitney's goal was his first since March 17 at Edmonton and his fourth in his last 10 games. ... Forward Martin Hanzel sat out his eighth straight game with a lower back injury.